Public Speaking Is The #1 Fear In America. It Shouldn’t Be Yours.

Public speaking can seem like a daunting task, and more often than not business professionals underprepare and under deliver when it comes to making an impact on their audience. The truth is that 80% of the time, when you just “wing it,” you are not as persuasive, convincing or dynamic as you would have been had you taken the time to really prepare and rehearse. Think about it—athletes practice before each game; musicians rehearse before every concert. So, if you want to be a dynamic and persuasive communicator, it is vital that you take the time to prepare and practice before your big speech. Along with the advice offered by Jennifer Knickerbocker in Do You Have The Skill That Makes You Look More Credible, Confident And Capable?, here are a few of my tips for bringing your best self to the stage:

Set the Stage
When preparing for any communication, hone in on the essential information you’ll need in order to understand and connect with your audience. The first questions you have to ask yourself are, “Who is my audience and what are their goals, needs and objectives?” Then, tune in to radio station WIFT-FM: What’s In it For Them?

Getting It Down… On Paper Or Tablet
When you first work on a speech or other type of communication, you might want to begin by writing your thoughts freely as a stream of consciousness. Next, pull out the main topics, factoids and stories, and then reduce them into an outline of long bullet points. After working it further, you will probably feel comfortable with short bullet points, prompts or icons.

Identify Your “Butterfly Spots”
Figure out what it is about the situation or the audience (maybe it’s just one specific person) that makes you nervous, and then develop a strategy for warding off the nerves ahead of time. However, unlike some coaches, one strategy I don’t advise is to imagine your audience naked. I tried that once and ended up in an uncontrollable fit of giggles. Often, simply by becoming self-aware and seeing how irrational your fears are, they will lose their power.

OTT (Over the Top)
Practice your communication (big speech, board presentation, analyst call, etc.) really animated, very exaggerated and completely outside of your regular comfort zone. Really Over-the-Top. You can start warming up by saying the monologues below, aloud (when you won’t disturb anyone) or to yourself (when you will). It may seem silly or uncomfortable but practicing OTT not only reduces your nervousness, but it also primes you to own the room, appearing confident and happy to be there—even if you’re not! You can use these phrases to practice OTT or choose your own:

“I can’t wait to introduce myself!”
“I am the expert and I can’t wait to tell you this!”
“I’m so happy to be here!”
“They NEED to hear this!”
“I own this room!”
“I deserve to be here!”

Chunking It Out
When practicing your speech, start with small chunks (paragraphs) and paraphrase them many times until you are comfortable with the flow and meaning. Your goal is to sound conversational and spontaneous. Never, never, never (did I say never?) memorize the information or your presentation will sound canned.

Just because you don’t enjoy public speaking doesn’t mean you can’t successfully convey your message to the audience. Keeping these communication tips in mind will help prime you for whatever type of presentation you’re faced with. Whether it is a small meeting, a group of 50 people or an auditorium of 500, the right preparation and practice is the key to conveying your message in the most authentic and influential way possible.